“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” So begins Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and the principle certainly applies to the Foxman clan in Jonathan Tropper’s hilariously heartbreaking 2009 novel, This Is Where I Leave You.
Upon the death of patriarch Mort, the four Foxman children—Paul, who runs the family sports store and carries a huge chip on his shoulder; Judd, our narrator, who’s recently estranged from his wife; Wendy, the harried but direct mother of three; and Phillip, the charming, perpetual screw-up—gather at the family home with mother Hillary to (reluctantly) sit Shiva [the week-long mourning period in Judaism]. It’s the longest uninterrupted time they’ve all spent together in decades, and the results are alternately unpleasant, uncomfortable (punches are thrown and long-buried feuds revisited) and heartwarming. Publishers Weekly says, “The family’s interactions are sharp, raw and often laugh-out-loud funny, and Judd’s narration is unflinching, occasionally lewd and very keen. Tropper strikes an excellent balance between the family history and its present-day fallout, proving his ability to create touchingly human characters and a deliciously page-turning story.”
This sounds like the perfect setup for a film, and we’re in luck: the movie adaptation of the book opens September 19. Directed by Shawn Levy (Date Night, Night at the Museum) from a script by Tropper, the film stars Jason Bateman as Judd, Tina Fey as Wendy, Corey Stoll as Paul, Adam Driver as Phillip, and Jane Fonda as the all-powerful Foxman matriarch Hillary. Here are a few things—moods, scenes, emotions—that we hope make it to the screen.
Judd Foxman’s snarky, but sad, narration
In the book, it’s Judd’s voice that carries us through the action, and everything is filtered through his decidedly cynical gaze. He has a reason to be cynical: he just walked in on his wife of 10 years (Jen in the book and Quinn in the film) having sex in the marital bed with his shock-jockey boss, played by Dax Shepard, who’ll surely bring some oily charm to the womanizing radio personality. In the hands of Bateman—whose iconic role as beleaguered middle son Michael Bluth on Arrested Development is the perfect preamble for Judd—we’re fairly certain that the right balance will be struck between humor and genuine emotional pain.
The realistic sibling relationship
No one wants to watch a movie—or read a book—about siblings who get along splendidly every single day. That’s boring. There’s no doubt that the four Foxman siblings love each other (even if it’s grudging and out of a sense of familial loyalty) but what Tropper manages to convey with such graceful ease is the ways in which childhood dynamics carry through to adulthood with both positive and negative consequences. Judd and Paul will always look out for Phillip, despite the fact that Paul thinks his youngest brother is an utter failure (and often says as much). It’s just understood that that’s what brothers do. Wendy will always move between being the peacemaker and the instigator, holding the power to diffuse tense situations and ignite arguments old and new. Tina Fey’s dry wit seems like a perfect match for Wendy, and Adam Driver’s somewhat sleazy turn on Girls makes us think he’ll be ideal as the seductive but perpetually inept Phillip. Corey Stoll’s hard stare and set jaw, which we recognize from his time on House of Cards, is an excellent match for Paul’s frosty exterior, one that covers up a hot, seething rage at slights past and present.
Hillary Foxman’s complete lack of boundaries when it comes to her children
A successful psychologist with a bestselling parenting book—which uses all her children as examples and goes so far as to use their real names—Hillary Foxman has no filter. She also has no qualms about discussing her sex life with her children, often in conjunction with unwanted observations and pointers about their own bedroom activities. Like most mothers, she has a soft spot for baby Phillip, but he can’t escape her penetrating gaze entirely. Jane Fonda, who made a name for herself playing upfront, no-holds-barred women to be reckoned with, should bring out the best, and the worst, parts of Hillary. And that’s just right.
No Foxman comes out of the seven days of sitting Shiva unscathed. Judd sums it up perfectly at the end of the novel, when the siblings are set to go their separate ways:
“Deflect emotions with logistics. It’s what we do. Dad lives on in all of us. Our parents can continue to screw us up even after they die, and in this way, they’re never really gone. My siblings and I will always struggle trying to confront an honest emotion. We’ll succeed, to varying degrees, with outsiders but fail consistently, sometimes spectacularly, with each other. The hardwiring simply runs too deep, like behind the walls of this house; circuit breakers on hair triggers.”
Now this is the kind of family we want to see onscreen. Got your ticket yet?